Search the collection database.
The crown jewel of the museum’s Japanese art holdings is its collection of more than 10,000 Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, approximately half of which were donated by James A. and Mari Michener. In the collection are many masterworks by Kitagawa Utamaro, Katsushika Hokusai, and the world’s largest collection of prints designed by Utagawa Hiroshige. Due to their fragility and sensitivity to light, woodblock print displays are changed every two months in the Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery of Japanese Woodblock Prints (Gallery 21).
Michener, a prominent novelist famous for such works as Tales From the South Pacific and Hawaii, began collecting Japanese prints in the 1950s and wrote several books and articles on the subject, including The Floating World (1954), one of the first book-length studies of Japanese prints published in English. During this time, the author considered building a small collection of ukiyo-e. Yet his collecting did not truly begin until Mrs. Georgia Forman of Buffalo, New York, an old friend whom he had not seen for 25 years, bequeathed to him her small “choice” collection of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. She entrusted Michener with her collection because of the love for prints he had expressed in The Floating World. A few years later, in 1957, Michener acquired the famous Charles H. Chandler Collection (4,533 prints), reputed to be one of the most complete and finest private collections in the United States. His collection continued to grow from there as he added a thousand more prints.
Michener’s collection was established gradually at the museum. His prints were first placed on long-term loan to the museum in the late 1950s. In 1970, then director James W. Foster established the Ukiyo-e Center in Honolulu. In 1988, Michener donated a large group of the prints. Then, in 1991, James and Mari Michener presented their remaining prints to the museum, resulting in a total donation of more than 5,000 prints.
Robert F. Lange Foundation support of
conservation and online collection
In 1991, the museum established a conservation program with generous funding by the Robert F. Lange Foundation, which annually supports this critical activity. The partnership between the Lange Foundation, a Hawai‘i-based non-profit foundation, and the Honolulu Museum of Art permits the museum to systematically attend to the needs of such an important collection—the stabilization, preservation, and public display of several thousand woodblock prints—and has resulted in the conservation of thousands of prints.
In 2010, the museum launched this digital database of the Japanese woodblock print collection, the result of a three-year project sponsored by the Lange Foundation. Thanks to the foundation, more than 6,000 woodblock prints are currently available online, with plans to make the entire collection available to the public in the future.